Four decades ago, Chaya Harel was approached by one of the teachers at her son’s Jerusalem high school. The son, Yuval, who was in his final year of school, had come to the teacher seeking advice. He was in love with Sigal, but knew the importance of succeeding in the upcoming matriculation exams. How should he allocate his time?
The teacher asked the mother for her advice and promised to pass it along as coming from the teacher, rather from Yuval’s mother, Chaya.
The mother’s advice was to spend more time with Sigal. Yuval, she reasoned, could always improve his grades later.
Tragically, Yuval Harel was killed in 1982, during the First Lebanon War. Later, in grief, Chaya Harel would say, “I had some comfort knowing it was my best advice.”
The story was shared May 3 by Geoffrey Druker at Vancouver’s annual ceremony marking Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s official day of remembrance for those fallen in war and victims of terror attacks.
Yuval Harel was one of two young men of the same name who died in the same war, a few days apart. They were two of more than 24,000 killed over 74 years, whose memories were honoured at the Vancouver event and at similar ceremonies worldwide.
“This year, as in previous years, we remember our fallen,” said Druker, who is chair of Vancouver’s Yom Hazikaron committee. “And the list painfully keeps lengthening. These past months, Israelis and foreign citizens, Jews and non-Jews, men and women, were killed on the streets, in the pubs, gas stations [and] shopping strips in Israel by terrorist attacks. Fifty-six people were added this year to the list and 84 injured soldiers [who] passed away are recognized as fallen soldiers.”
This year’s ceremony also marked 25 years since the deadliest crash in the history of the Israeli Air Force. (See jewishindependent.ca/25-years-since-deadly-crash.)
Druker shared the story of Yigal Amster, a son of Holocaust survivors who lived with asthma.
“When he joined the army, he tried to hide it,” said Druker. “He asked to join the tank corps. He wished to become an officer.” When his commanders noticed his difficulty breathing in poor air quality, Amster was assigned to a medic course.
“When the Yom Kippur [War] broke out, in 1973, he was sent to help the troops in the Suez Canal. While in an armoured vehicle, he was hit and later died from his injuries. He was 20 years old.”
Amster’s cousin, Vancouverite Charlotte Katzen, read Yizkor in his memory and in memory of all the fallen.
“May the nation of Israel remember its sons and daughters, faithful and courageous,” Katzen read the prayer in English. “The soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces, members of the undergrounds, members of the intelligence community, security and policemen, who fell in the wars of Israel, and all of whom that were killed – within Israel and outside of Israel – by terrorists. May the people of Israel keep them in their memory and be blessed with their seed; mourn the splendour of youth, the altruism of valour, the dedication of will and the dignity of self-sacrifice, which came to an end in the heavy battles. May our fallen be sealed forever within the hearts of all Israel, in this generation and forevermore.”
Michael Balshine read Yizkor for his father, Avigdor Balshine, a member of the Haganah and a pioneer in Israel’s water sector. On Feb. 23, 1948, while working with Mekorot, the national water company of Israel, Avigdor Balshine and his colleague Mark Feigin were ambushed and killed in Wadi Milik. Michael Balshine was 6 years old.
Ilene-Jo Bellas lit a candle in memory of her cousin, Fern Rykiss, who was a 17-year-old from Winnipeg who was murdered on a bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1989.
Tamara Frankel lit a candle in memory of her family member Amnon Shapira.
Photographs were projected of family members and friends of members of the Vancouver community whose lives are among those lost in the past 74 years.
Idit Shamir, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, sent video greetings.
“On this day, Israelis and Jews around the world remember the pain the bereaved families carry with them every day,” said Shamir. “We remember that our independence has come with a heavy price. We bow our heads with eternal gratitude to those who have paid the price, Jews and non-Jews, Israeli-born and immigrants, all those who have fallen for the state of Israel. We know that we are here because of them…. We thank the fallen sons and daughters who have protected us. We embrace their families and all the bereaved families who have sacrificed so much. We promise that their immense sacrifice will never be in vain and we pledge to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the privilege they have given us, we will give to others, to our children, their children and to the countless generations to come, the privilege of standing tall. The privilege of standing proud. The privilege of standing strong. The privilege of being a free people in our land.”
In attendance at the ceremony was Commander Robert D’Eon of the Royal Canadian Navy.